It’s all over but the sighing. The New Mexico Legislature adjourned sine die at noon today, leaving the state with a budget package that ensures the really hard work is yet to come and will occur in the trenches.
The mandatory bills for the 30-day legislative session - the state budget and capital outlay - were out the chamber doors and going up to the governor before midnight. So this morning’s final sessions focused on mop-up and lacked the traditional eleventh hour drama of years past.
New Mexico’s budget woes have been well-chronicled. Having no viable alternative, lawmakers cut, swept, transferred and diverted funds in order to balance an appropriations act that remains long on need but short on revenue. Colleges and universities have a particularly hard road ahead, as higher education endured a nearly $20 million cut from the current year’s operating base. The I&G budgets for UNM main campus and the medical school took a $6 million hit. That’s for next fiscal year. An additional half-percent cut will have to be absorbed in the current budget cycle that has but four months to go.
Capital outlay tells a happier story for UNM. In the so-called public works package funded largely by severance tax bonds, UNM has 18 projects totaling $3.25 million. These range from the Linguistics Lab and safety lighting to Innovate Albuquerque to improvements for Popejoy Hall, baseball and basketball facilities and the law school.
UNM has a huge stake in the General Obligation bond package that will go to the voters this November. In addition to the $27 million for Physics and Astronomy, a late hour amendment in House Ways and Means redirected $8 million to a health sciences building at UNM West. This is a priority for the city of Rio Rancho which has allocated matching funds. Each of UNM’s branches also have projects that add another $7.5 million to the mix. This bond issue will not raise property taxes and that will be a major selling point in the get out the vote campaign that will be soon be revving up.
Lottery bills never caught much traction. One that sought to reinvigorate the lottery died in committee. One that made it through both houses diverts all unclaimed lottery prizes to the scholarship fund. We heard those annual amounts could be $1 million to $2 million or even $3 million to $9 million, depending on which committee hearing you attended.
At least a half dozen lawmakers will not be seeking reelection in November. Among them are Rep. Lucky Varela (D-Santa Fe), a budget wizard of 30-years standing, our former UNM Regent Rep. Conrad James (R-Albuquerque), former Speaker W. Ken Martinez (D-Grants) who has taken a job in Bernalillo County, and Sen. Sue Wilson Beffort (R-Sandia Park), a great friend to UNM for more than 20 years.
Back on the home front, it is time for our annual bout of post-session depression. We ask that you be kind to your Government Relations and legislative team. They return to campus worn and weary and in need of cookies. This 30-day session that felt much longer is now history. Challenges await, but fear not. You’ve got this. We’ll be rooting for you.